Dear Fellow Congregants, and Friends,
After just two months of joyful and solemn services in our beautiful shul, and exuberant Kiddushim in the rear courtyard outside, I am sadly writing to confirm what you will all have known since the Prime Minister’s announcement of the latest lockdown measures last Saturday (as confirmed by the Chief Rabbi in a letter to United Synagogue congregations on Sunday): the Park Row Synagogue is as of now once again closed for public worship.
Although the latest measures – unlike the first lockdown back in March – do allow places of worship to stay open for private prayer, as you all know and as explicitly stated by the Chief Rabbi, private prayer is not really part of the function of a synagogue – whose Hebrew name, beit knesset, after all, means “house of assembly”. In the Jewish tradition, prayers may be recited privately in any place: it is not necessary to be in shul, the whole point of which is to meet others as a focus for the community. Unlike the places of worship of some other denominations in Bristol, therefore, we are closing the shul’s gate completely for the time being.
The lockdown which comes into effect on Thursday is supposed to end on 2nd December, and, whilst I certainly hope that we may be able to reopen for public services quickly after that date, I would not discount the possibility of the lockdown being extended by a couple of weeks or more. I attended an online meeting with the Director of Public Health for the South West yesterday, and the figures for the City of Bristol and South Gloucestershire really are quite grim now, so the expert medical view is that it is essential for public gatherings (including worship) to cease for the time being.
I also feel it my responsibility, as emphasised by the Director of Public Health, to remind you all that a critical cause of the spread of Coronavirus is contact between different households: please, therefore, I strongly encourage you all to exercise the greatest possible caution in your social interactions. Basically, if at all possible: please avoid meeting anyone outside your household – unless they are part of your pre-existing ‘support bubble’. Full details of what is and is not permitted are at the following link: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/new-national-restrictions-from-5-november.
For the time being and until further notice, we are resuming online meetings – with a change. Under the previous lockdown and until late August, we met online for a truncated Kabbalat Shabbat and schmooze on Friday evenings. This was feasible enough as the days lengthened in Spring, and through most of the Summer. But now, as we approach the shortest days and darkest time of the year, Friday mid-afternoons may not be very convenient or easy for many people who might wish to join. Rabbi Mendy Singer will therefore be running Havdalah and schmooze gatherings on Saturday evenings, starting at 6.00pm, from this Saturday. You can join us at www.jewishbristol.com/zoom, and I look forward to seeing as many as possible of you online – until we reopen the shul.
Finally, a brief reminder that we will be saying special prayers this shabbes for Remembrance (as Armistice Day is next week), and the shabbes after for AJEX Shabbat.
Wishing you all, and your loved ones, good health and shalom,
President, Bristol Hebrew Congregation